Topstitching Knits with a Sewing Machine

Have you ever wondered if you can use a regular sewing machine for knit fabrics? The answer is yes!  | How to topstitch knits with a Sewing Machine | Chipmunk's Corner

“Do I need a coverstitch machine to sew knits?” or “Can I use my sewing machine to sew knits or do I need a serger?” These are both questions I see a lot!

You absolutely can use a regular sewing machine for sewing knits! I’ll address constructing knit garments with a sewing machine in a future post. For now, let’s look at topstitching knit fabrics. 

What is topstitching?

Topstitching is a sewing technique where the line of stitching is designed to be seen from the outside of the garment, either decorative or functional. Topstitching is used most often on garment edges such as necklines and hems, where it helps facings to stay in place and gives a crisp edge. Wikipedia

There are two machines commonly used for topstitching. The most praised is the coverstitch machine because of the professional, industrial look it gives. I can’t personally talk about how wonderful this machine is because mine is in time out. I recently bought it second hand and in spite of my efforts to make friends with it, we’re just not on speaking terms. I’ll be sending it to our local repair shop soon for an attitude adjustment. 😀

The other machine commonly used for topstitching is just a regular, zigzag sewing machine. More than likely, you already own and use one!

The Importance of the Walking Foot

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the different stitches you can use for topstitching, let’s start this off on the right foot. The walking foot, to be precise. 

A walking foot helps move fabric through  the machine evenly. When sewing knits, it can prevent your fabric from stretching out and distorting as you sew. This is super important when sewing with knits because wavy seams and wavy topstitching is not a pretty sight. 

Topstitching with a Twin Needle

A twin needle creates two very neat rows of stitching on top and a zigzag effect on the back. It has some give to it, which is perfect for knits. 

The twin needle gives a very nice looking finish that mimics the look of the coverstitch. While I did use this method for a while, it requires adjusting the bobbin tension and a bit of setup.

Topstitchin Knits with a Twin Needle | Chipmunk's Corner
Twin needle topstitching on the neckline and skirt. 

I also ran into trouble because my machine’s manual said nothing about twin needle. Nada. Zilch. I kind of got it working, but never to my satisfaction. The bobbin thread is supposed to zigzag between the two needle threads. No matter how I adjusted mine, it stayed straight with very little stretch. I ended up compromising by using woolly or bulky nylon thread in the bobbin which allowed my stitches to stretch a little. I also didn’t like how much work it took to go from being set up for the twin needle to regular sewing. It made switching from regular sewing to topstitching very difficult and time consuming. I prefer being able to just sew and not be slowed down. 

That being said, some machines handle a twin needle with no trouble! Check your manual to see. 

The Stretch Stitch

Almost any stitch that is classed as a stretch stitch will work for topstitching. It really depends on the look you’re going for. The circled stitches below are an example. 

Most machines have a zigzag stitch and variations of the zigzag. On my machine, those are numbered 06-08. When I use a zigzag, I like making it smaller than my machine’s default settings. 

Stitches 04 and 14 are very similar and are known as the Lightning Bolt stitch. 

Stitch 03 is a triple straight stitch and is made for stretchy fabrics. It’s often used for hemming and gives a nice clean look. 

Some of the others that are circled on the chart are also stretch stitches that you could play with. I recommend trying different stitches out on your machine and seeing what you like. It can be fun to play with the different combinations. 

Here, you can see that I used a simple, small zigzag stitch to topstitch the neckband, armbands, and waistband of this Amber + Elton Sweater Vest. 

Topstitching done with a small zigzag stitch. 
Topstitching Knits with a zigzag stitch | Chipmunk's Corner
Another example of a small zigzag stitch used for topstitching. 

Straight Stitch

I can just imagine the puzzled look on your face. I know. I did just say straight stitch for topstitching knits. The straight stretch doesn’t really have any give, so it’s typically not good to use in knit garment construction. However, there are occasions where you can use a plain straight stitch for topstitching.

For instance: Skirt hems, large necklines that won’t have tension put on them, flowy sleeve hems, basically any place that won’t be stretched during wear.

Topstitching Knits with a straight stitch | Chipmunk's Corner
Here I used a straight stitch to topstitch this neckline as it was not a tight fit over the head. 
Women's Cher Skirt from the Made for Mermaids Clueless Collection.
The full shirt — I quite like the simplicity of the straight stitch on this for topstitching and haven’t had any trouble with popped stitches. 

The Adventure of Sewing with Knits

Every project, every type of knit fabric, every stitch has it’s own unique look and behavior. The more you sew, the more you will understand how each of these things work together. Sewing is such an adventure! Don’t be afraid to try new things. 

I’d love to hear your favorite topstitching or sewing tips! Feel free to share in the comments below. 🙂

How to topstitch knits with a Sewing Machine | Sewing with Knits | Chipmunk's Corner

One thought on “Topstitching Knits with a Sewing Machine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *